Wrap It Right: Praful Makwana’s Take On The Dhoti
Goa-based slow fashion entrepreneur Praful Makwana is turning the spotlight on India’s dhotis and its infinite variations.
Praful Makwana has been into dhotis and the different ways of draping them for as long as he can remember. Makwana, a Gujarati who grew up in the Mumbai suburb of Borivali, says that even as a seven-year-old child, he would take a keen interest in dhotis. “No one in my family had the remotest interest in dhotis, but I’d always wear them. I wore one on my last day at school, on my graduation day from fashion college, I’d wear regular outfits to work, but at home, it would always be dhotis,” says Makwana.
The 45-year-old worked with fashion companies in Dubai for over 20 years before setting up organic clothing brand, Sepia Stories, in Goa last year. But three years ago, spurred by his nephew’s perception of dhotis as a piece of clothing worn by “oldies”, Makwana decided to tell the story of India’s numerous dhotis.
“I started working on a book of drapes, informed by my travels across the country. But that’s a long-term plan, so I decided to complement it with documenting the dhoti on social media,” says Makwana.
His Instagram handle, @MisterMakwana, has over 32,000 followers, and his posts provide information on everything from the Feijom dhoti drape from Manipur to Rabari drape from Gujarat. Makwana handles modelling duties himself, pairing the dhotis with muslin cotton shirts, flare kurtas, sneakers, and Dr Martens boots, among others.
Over the last couple of years, Makwana has documented hundreds of different styles, but his work, he says, is far from over. “It is difficult to put a number on the different types of dhotis in India. The sheer variety is staggering when you consider the textiles that are used to make them and the way they are draped. All saris, for instance, are dhotis, and there are multiple ways and multiple versions of the dhoti,” says Makwana.
Dhotis — and draping styles — in different regions are influenced by the weather and by the work its wearers do, says Makwana. Chhattisgarh has short lungis; across India, a priest would wear dhotis differently from, say, a potter, or a farmer. “Maharashtra itself has over ten different styles; Tamil Nadu is another hub and I really love their silk dhotis that are made in a little town close to Kancheepuram. The Rabari tribe has several variations, Bengal has its jamdhanis, and a lot of Muslims favour the Bangladeshi lungi,” says Makwana, who has researched on the dhoti in 10 states, including Assam, Orissa, and Gujarat. Dhotis are like dialects, he adds, with subtle nuances to each of them. “The basic drapes might remain static, but you have front pleats, back pleats, side cowls — some communities prefer the dhoti to cascade, others don’t.”
Caste also played a key role in the way dhotis were worn, but Makwana is not going there, at least not yet. “Similar to headgear, dhotis, and drapes were also caste-specific. There is a Kshatriya-style drape as well, but at this moment, I am looking to celebrate the garment and make people aware of the heritage that we are losing.”